As K-pop's Got7 leaves its label, fans wonder what comes next

K-pop boy group Got7 are reaching the end of their seven-year contract with JYP Entertainment.
PHOTO: JYP Entertainment

The seven members of K-pop boy band Got7 were confirmed to be parting ways with long-term home JYP Entertainment on Monday.

The news arrived after weeks of consternation and buzz over what the act’s future would hold as they approached their seventh anniversary on Jan 16, the end of the term limit legally dictated for K-pop artist contracts in South Korea.

Before the confirmation from JYP, it was rumoured that several members would be joining other South Korean labels and local news outlets reported that none were renewing with JYP. However, members of the act were posting “Got7 Forever” on social media.

“The past seven years have been the best years of my life,” member Mark Tuan posted on Twitter the previous day after news that the group’s performance at the 35th Golden Disc Awards might be their last as an act under JYP . “Nothing is coming to an end, just the beginning. The seven of us are going to continue to bring you guys the best version of us till the end.”

Tuan’s tweet, as well as other acknowledgements by other members on social media about the parting of ways with JYP – including member BamBam having perfect comedic timing with a shoulder shrugging GIF on a tweet about how JYP founder J.Y. Park unfollowed several members of the act on Instagram – all implied that the group’s identity remains united even if the members do go their separate ways.

This didn’t necessarily come as a surprise to fans of the group, known as iGot7 or Ahgase: each of the seven members has had a solo career throughout Got7’s run.

BamBam and Jackson Wang have pursued careers in their home markets of Thailand and China, while Jinyoung is a rising actor in the K-drama world. Other members, such as JB, Yug-yeom and Young-jae, have shown their skills as songwriters over the years.

This didn’t necessarily come as a surprise to fans of the group, known as iGot7 or Ahgase: each of the seven members has had a solo career throughout Got7’s run.

BamBam and Jackson Wang have pursued careers in their home markets of Thailand and China, while Jinyoung is a rising actor in the K-drama world. Other members, such as JB, Yugyeom, and Youngjae, have shown their skills as songwriters over the years.

If Got7 do stay together as a group, informally or otherwise, but pursue their own careers as expected , they wouldn’t be the first to do so in the history of K-pop: senior groups such as Shinhwa and Brown Eyed Girls have also operated similarly at various points of their career, releasing music and coming together as a joint team while still working solo, and being spread among South Korean entertainment companies.

Got7’s circumstances are a bit different: the Korean members will have to enlist in South Korea’s military for their compulsory service, while Tuan is rumoured to be heading back to the US to join his family.

BamBam and Wang already spent much of their time during the non-Covid-19 years travelling across Asia, but the intent is apparently there to hold onto the bond.

For some, the news of Got7 leaving JYP Entertainment and staying connected may be a surprise: K-pop groups typically either disband or renew after their contracts come to an end around the seven year mark, or, on a few occasions, all join another agency together.

But Got7 have a strong following that has helped them sell hundreds of thousands of albums and sell out venues across the globe, while staying a bit under the radar in South Korea.

Their biggest hit in the country was 2016’s Hard Carry, while other songs, including arguably their best singles, 2015’s Just Right and If You Do, also made an impact. The group’s members, however, are typically better known for their television roles, either as actors or television personalities, or, in some members’ cases, as fashion icons or as songwriters.

Because of their relatively disjointed form of unity and never getting that absolute, undeniable hit – even as they grew as artists and released a stalwart body of work and put on one dynamic performance after another – Got7 have been facing questions about their future for some years now. But they made it clear repeatedly with phrases like “7 or nothing” or “7 or never” that their bond is bigger than each individual.

And, accordingly, even though they may never have topped the most popular charts in South Korea (though they did hit No 1 on Billboard Korea’s Hot 100 rankings with 2018’s Lullaby and regularly charted well on Billboard US’ World Albums Chart), they have been a major influence on the current state of K-pop.

As an early multinational K-pop group with members who gained popularity in their own right throughout Asia, Got7 created the template for groups that stay together while simultaneously creating solo stars.

While other K-pop groups have seen members achieve success in their own right, Got7 are as much a group of social media influencers as K-pop stars, and have showed how a strong bond between the individual stars, the group, and the fans can make a career stronger.

The group have regularly confronted their place in the world of K-pop, with members discussing how they felt about the performative aspect of being K-pop idols, and airing their grievances if they disagreed with a decision by JYP.

In the world of Korean entertainment, businesses typically hold all the power and stars typically suffer under their limitations, but Got7 showed a more realistic, relatable side of stardom to their fans, even when it came to their contract end.

Got7 are leaving JYP Entertainment, but they will hopefully remain together as friends.
PHOTO: JYP Entertainment

At the Golden Disc Awards on Sunday, Got7 skipped across stage together and happily celebrated getting an award. Rather than expressing sorrow at an end of an era, they revelled in the start of a new one, just like anyone else leaving a difficult job for a new stage of their career.

If all goes as Ahgases are hoping, Got7 will remain together, if not with musical releases then as friends, for years to come. Regardless, their impact as a more realistic idol group will endure whether or not they ever perform on the same stage ever again. Although hopefully they will.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.